INEC seeks more powers on election process, primaries

The Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC) has proposed a range of amendments to Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), to enable it have a firmer grip on the conduct of general elections and the supervision of parties’ shadow polls.

These proposals are in line with the vision of its chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu to address some of the lapses in the electoral law.

The draft amendment has been submitted to the National Assembly  – due to begin its assignment after their return from annual vacation next month.

Some of the highlights of the proposed amendment include:

  • Election to hold on a date to be picked by INEC
  • Primaries to hold four months before poll
  • Tough conditions for unqualified candidates and parties presenting such people;
  • Stoppage of registration of voters 90 days before the general election
  • Banning INEC members from belonging to political parties;
  • Making funds available to INEC  not later than 180 days to the appointed date for election.
  • Powers to suspend poll if there is threat to peace
  • Death of a candidate during poll and conduct of primaries within 14 days and
  • Issuance of Certificate of Return to elected candidate should INEC refuse

A copy of the draft amendments, obtained exclusively by The Nation, reads in part: “Nothing in this section shall empower the Courts to stop the holding of Ad-hoc delegates’ elections, primaries or general election or the processes thereof under this Act pending the determination of the suit.

INEC makes e-voting it discretionary in its proposal.

It said: “Notwithstanding the provisions of this Act or any other Law, the Commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit”.

On funding, it demanded that such funds be released six months before any general election.

It called for the “Establishment of the Independent National Electoral Commission Fund.”

It said: “There shall be established for the Commission a fund to be known as Independent National Electoral Commission Fund

“There shall be paid into the Fund established in pursuance to subsection (1) of this Section-3(2) (a) a) such sums and payments available to the Commission for carrying out its functions under the Constitution and this Act, provided that the funds for General Elections shall be released to the Commission not later than 180 days to the date appointed for the elections.”

As part of internal cleansing to avoid a repeat of Poll bribery scam in 2015, INEC has made some recommendations including banning its staff from belonging to any party.

Some of the amendments read: “All staff and persons seeking employment with the Commission are prohibited from being members of political parties.

“All Staff, Electoral Officers, Presiding Officers, Returning Officers, Security Officials and Staff taking part in the conduct of an election shall Affirm or Swear to an Oath of Loyalty and Neutrality indicating that they will not accept bribe or gratification from any person, and Shall perform their functions and duties impartially and in the interest of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without fear or favour.”

INEC also sought amendment to Section 25 of the Electoral Act which fixed timelines for the conduct of Presidential, National Assembly, Governorship and State House of Assembly polls.

It said: ”Election to each House of the National Assembly shall hold on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”

“Elections to the House of Assembly of a State shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission”

“An election to the office of President shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”

An election to the office of the Governor of a State shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission”

INEC has asked for a new legal backing to suspend poll whenever there is threat to peace.

It recommended as follows: “Where an election has commenced and there is reason to believe that there is or has been substantial disruption of election in a polling unit or constituency or it is impossible to continue with the election occasioned by threat to peace and security of electoral officials and materials, the Commission shall suspend the election and appoint another date for the continuation of the election or the process thereof.

“Where the Commission appoints a substituted date in accordance with subsections (2), (3) and (4) of this section, there shall be no return for the election until polling has taken place in the area or areas affected.”

On conduct of primaries, the new amendment is mandating political parties to conduct primaries 120 days (no more 60 days) before the appointed date for any poll.

It said the amendment was necessary to give effect to the  decision of the Supreme  Court in SC 377/2019 –APC & 180 Ors. vs. Sen. Kabiru Marafa & Ors.

The amendment to Section 31 of the Electoral Act on submission of the list of candidates reads: “Every Political Party shall, not later than 120 days before the date appointed for a General Election under this Act, submit to the Commission, in the prescribed Forms, the list of the candidates the Party proposes to sponsor at the elections, who must have  emerged from validly conducted  primaries.”

But instead of the current practice of paying N500,000 fines for fielding unqualified candidates, parties will henceforth either lose the right to participate in any election or its elected candidate will vacate office.

A party will however pay N10million after, should the proposal be approved.

Also, any party fielding unqualified but elected candidate will lose such office irrespective of whether it is Presidential or others.

Apart from discouraging parties from sponsoring unqualified candidates for polls, INEC said it has decided to make the suggestion to “avoid  waste of public funds to repeat election consequent upon removal of disqualified candidates.”

Another new clause in Section 36 deals with the death of a candidate during election.

It says: “The Political Party whose candidate dies may, if it intends to continue to participate in the election, conduct a fresh primary election within 14 days of the death of its candidate and submit the name of a new candidate to the Commission.

“In a Presidential, Governorship or Chairmanship of Area Council elections, where the running mate of a candidate dies, the Political Party whose candidate died may, if it intends to continue to participate in the election, nominate another running mate within seven days to the Commission.”

The registration of voters, updating and revision of the Register of Voters under this Act shall stop not later than 90 days before the General Elections.”

The electoral body has also made a new provision to stop registration of voters not later than 90 days to a general election.

<<The Nation>>